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Fisher, players energized about Rams' future

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Fisher, players energized about Rams' future

ST. LOUIS (AP) Jeff Fisher's comeback was a rousing success. Coming off the worst five-year stretch in NFL history, the St. Louis Rams shattered their sad-sack image.

Players from the NFL's youngest roster cleaned out lockers Monday energized about a future of playoff contention after barely missing out on the franchise's first winning record since 2003 - and feeling that this seven-win season will not be a mirage.

``I was on a team that was 7-9, came back and didn't do well,'' middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. ``That's not this group. The postseason, that's on everyone's mind, and it's not just a far-fetched hope, it's an expectation.''

Quarterback Sam Bradford was the NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year after the Rams went 7-9 in 2010, then hobbled through a humbling two-win season that ushered in a rebuilding effort under Fisher and general manager Les Snead.

In retrospect, Bradford believes the wins came too easily his rookie year, and that the Rams (7-8-1) got what they deserved this season while moving past the bad old days from 2007-11 when they totaled a measly 15 wins.

St. Louis was strong in one of the NFL's toughest divisions, going 4-1-1 in the NFC West. Two of the victories came over division champions and a third came against a wild-card playoff team. In the finale they went to the wire at Seattle, which had blown out its previous three opponents and was unbeaten at home.

``I don't know if earned is the right word, but it felt like this team just had a little toughness,'' Bradford said. ``We were able to go out and get some wins that some people thought we wouldn't be able to do.''

The 54-year-old Fisher led the way, refreshed after taking a year off following a 17-year run in Tennessee.

``I had a blast, and I can't wait to get started again,'' Fisher said. ``I really enjoy it. It was a great group.''

There'll be no burnout this January. Unlike last season, when about two-thirds of the roster was replaced, Fisher and Snead aren't facing a massive roster overhaul, either.

Fisher wasn't certain how active the Rams would be in free agency. Last season, they picked up several starters, including cornerback Cortland Finnegan, defensive tackle Kendall Langford and center Scott Wells, all difference makers.

``It's awful early right now, you know,'' Fisher said. ``We're going to do whatever it takes. We've got some of our own we want back.''

Running back Steven Jackson, who became just the sixth player in NFL history with eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and also reached 10,000 yards rushing, is at the top of the list. Jackson can opt out of a contract that has one year to go at $7 million and Fisher reiterated that he wanted the 240-pound Jackson back.

Jackson wants to return, too, and believed the parties would meet soon. But he also said the Rams need to do ``due diligence in deciding where they want to go with the roster.''

``We're definitely going to sit down,'' said Jackson, wearing a red sweat shirt given to him by rookie running back Terrance Ganaway to commemorate the 10,000-yard milestone. ``I would hate to watch this organization go on and be successful, which I believe they will, without me.

``I want to be part of that, yes.''

The Rams head into the offseason with no glaring physical issues. Last year, Bradford's troublesome high left ankle sprain was a question mark, but the quarterback said he's had no problems for months.

Bradford had been sacked in 30 consecutive games, the longest streak in the NFL, before the line kept him clean the last two games, and said the ankle felt ``good, really good.''

``During the spring I could still feel it, but as time went along it just kind of went away,'' Bradford said. ``It's something that was a really positive thing, the fact that it didn't bother me the whole year.''

The Rams stayed the course with Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, and reaped a bounty of premium draft picks when they dealt the No. 2 overall pick and the rights to Robert Griffin III to Washington in March. The Redskins made the playoffs while the Rams ended up with three rookie starters, including playmaking cornerback Janoris Jenkins, plus have Washington's first-round picks in 2013 and 2014.

Bradford believes the Rams are clear winners in the deal.

``I think we did, for sure, just with all the picks that we have and what we're going to be able to build, what we've already started to build here,'' Bradford said. ``I think this team is on the fast track and I really look forward to the future, and to next year.''

Plus, next season should be his first time as a pro in which he doesn't have to switch offensive systems.

Sticking with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer should help the Rams score more down the road. This season, they were among six teams scoring 300 or fewer points.

The defense was a plus, tying for the NFL lead with 52 sacks behind big seasons from ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, without a coordinator. Fisher said the future of Gregg Williams, suspended for his role in the NFL bounty scandal, would be ``something I'll address over the next couple weeks.''

Long and Quinn are the Rams' first duo with double-digit sack totals since 2000.

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West Virginia, Penn State drop in new AP top 25 poll

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USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia, Penn State drop in new AP top 25 poll

After four of the top eight teams lost, The Associated Press college football poll had a new look behind No. 1 Alabama, with Ohio State reaching No. 2, LSU jumping back to No. 5 and Michigan moving into the top 10 for the first time this season.

The Crimson Tide received all but one of the 61 first-place votes from the media panel Sunday, with Ohio State receiving the other. No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Notre Dame also moved up a spot. LSU jumped eight after handing Georgia its first loss of the season. The Bulldogs slipped from No. 2 to No. 8.

No. 6 Michigan has its best ranking of the season after blowing out Wisconsin and Texas is up two spots to No. 7.

No. 9 Oklahoma moved back into the top 10 while it was idle and Central Florida remained No. 10.

COMPLETE AP TOP 25 POLL

1. Alabama 7-0 (60 first-place votes, no change from last week)

2. Ohio State 7-0 (1 first-place vote, No. 3 last week)

3. Clemson 6-0 (No. 4 last week)

4. Notre Dame 7-0 (No. 5 last week)

5. LSU 6-1 (No. 13 last week)

6. Michigan 6-1 (No. 12 last week)

7. Texas 6-1 (No. 9 last week)

8. Georgia 6-1 (No. 2 last week)

9. Oklahoma 5-1 (No. 11 last week)

10. UCF 6-0 (No change from last week)

11. Florida 6-1 (No. 14 last week)

12. Oregon 5-1 (No. 17 last week)

13. West Virginia 5-1 (No. 6 last week)

14. Kentucky 5-1 (No. 18 last week)

15. Washington 5-2 (No. 7 last week)

16. NC State 5-0 (No. 20 last week)

17. Texas A&M 5-2 (No. 22 last week)

18. Penn State 4-2 (No. 8 last week)

19. Iowa 5-1 (Not ranked last week)

20. Cincinnati 6-0 (No. 25 last week)

21. South Florida 6-0 (No. 23 last week)

22. Mississippi State 4-2 (No. 24 last week)

23. Wisconsin 4-2 (No. 15 last week)

24. Michigan State 4-2 (Not ranked last week)

25. Washington State 5-1 (Not ranked last week)

Virginia and Maryland are among those that received votes, with each team getting two apiece.

POLL POINTS

Eight ranked teams overall lost Saturday, including three previously unbeaten teams. Joining Georgia among the previously undefeated on Saturday were West Virginia and Colorado.

UP

All the losses up and down the rankings meant plenty of movement. Joining LSU and Michigan as teams that gained at least four spots were:

-- No. 12 Oregon jumped five after beating Washington in overtime. The Ducks have their best ranking since September 2015.

-- No. 17 Texas A&M moved up five after edging South Carolina on the road.

-- It was a good week to be idle and watch teams plummet. No. 14 Kentucky and No. 16 North Carolina State each gained four spots in an idle week, and No. 20 Cincinnati moved up five.

DOWN

-- No. 13 West Virginia lost at Iowa State and fell seven spots after reaching a season high last week.

-- No. 15 Washington dropped eight spots after losing at Oregon.

-- No. 18 Penn State's second straight close home loss, this time to Michigan State, dropped the Nittany Lions 10 spots.

-- No. 23 Wisconsin, which started the season ranked fourth, dropped eight spots after its second loss.

OUT

-- Colorado reached No. 19, racking up wins against a weak schedule, but USC manhandled the Buffaloes in Los Angeles and now they are unranked.

-- Miami, which started the season at No. 8, is out altogether after losing at Virginia.

-- Auburn, which started the season ninth, is out and no longer receiving votes after getting beat at home by Tennessee and falling to 4-3.

IN

-- Iowa surged into the rankings for the first time this season at No. 19.

-- No. 24 Michigan State is back in after a week out.

-- No. 25 Washington State moved in just in time to host ESPN's "College GameDay" for the first time ever with Oregon coming to town. Getting to Pullman, Washington, is notable for the show because for years it has been followed around by Wazzu fans waving the `Ol Crimson school flag.

CONFERENCE CALL

A week after the Southeastern Conference placed a season-high eight teams in the poll, the SEC lost one and the Big Ten gained two. The ACC has only two ranked team for the first time since Oct. 4, 2015, when Clemson was No. 6 and Florida State was No. 12. The Tigers played for in the national championship game that season.

SEC -- 7 teams (1, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 23).

Big Ten -- 6 (2, 6, 18, 19, 22, 24).

American -- 3 (10, 20, 21).

Big 12 -- 3 (7, 9, 13).

Pac-12 -- 3 (12, 15, 25).

ACC -- 2 (3, 16).

Independent -- 1 (4).

RANKED vs. RANKED

No. 16 North Carolina State at No. 3 Clemson. The ACC's only ranked and unbeaten teams meet in a game that will likely go a long way toward settling the Atlantic Division.

No. 22 Mississippi State at No. 5 LSU. This will be the fourth ranked team the Tigers have faced -- though two (Miami and Auburn) are no longer.

No. 6 Michigan at No. 24 Michigan State. Another chance for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines to flipped the narrative.

No. 12 Oregon at No. 25 Washington State. The Ducks look to make it an Evergreen State sweep.

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Redskins need a winning streak to convince legion of skeptics

Redskins need a winning streak to convince legion of skeptics

If you want to, you can find plenty of things wrong with the Redskins’ 23-17 win over the Panthers. The home team was up 17-0 in the second quarter and yet had to hang on as the Panthers reached the red zone with a chance to win in the last minute. The game got tight because the Redskins continued their second-half scoring problems, putting up just six points. Alex Smith passed for just 153 yards. 

But you can’t poke holes in the fact that the Redskins are 3-2 and in first place in the NFC East. Sure, there is a long way to go. But consider this—a Redskins schedule that looked rough at the beginning of the season doesn’t look quite as tough. In fact, right now the Redskins have a better winning percentage than any team they will play in their remaining 11 games. 

Yes, that’s right. They have six games to play in the division, two each against the Cowboys and Eagles, both now 3-3, and the 1-5 Giants. Their two remaining games against the NFC South are against the 2-3 Bucs and the 2-4 Falcons. The schedule is rounded out with games against three AFC South teams, the Titans, Texans, and Jaguars. All three of those teams are tied atop the division at 3-3. 

Of course, you can’t expect all of these teams to still be wallowing around .500 when they face the Redskins. It looks like the Eagles and Falcons are on the upswing and in today’s NFL any team can get hot at any time. 

And, as the Redskins demonstrated in their Week 2 loss to the Colts, they are capable of losing to a weak team. They still have plenty of issues they have to correct if they plan on maintaining their winning record and staying in contention for the division title. They won’t survive if they continue to have difficulty scoring in the second half (their only second-half TD this season came in garbage time against the Saints). They need to get more sacks from Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith, who have one combined. Plenty of details need to be ironed out. 

But the fact that they are a flawed team doesn’t take away from the fact that they got a quality win over the Panthers. Carolina was 3-1, coming off of an 11-5 playoff season. On top of that, the Redskins had not beaten the Panthers since 2006, a stretch that included an 0-4 record against Cam Newton. They didn’t commit a turnover for the first time this year and they got a season-high three takeaways. Christian McCaffrey came into the game averaging 83 yards per game and left it averaging 70 after picking up 20 yards on eight carries. 

With all of that said, the Redskins still have to overcome their inconsistency. They have won two games in a row just twice since the beginning of the 2017 season. Nobody is going to believe that anything is different about the Redskins until they can string together three or four wins in a row. Until then, skepticism will abound. 

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler is locked into the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler